There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Southwest Across the Moor from Lustleigh: Day 31 of the South West Odyssey (English Branch)

The South West Odyssey is a long distance walk.
Five like-minded people started in 2008 from the Cardingmill Valley in Shropshire and by walking three days a year have now (April 2018) reached Ringmore on the South Devon Coast (almost).

Devon is a long way from home for four of us (Brian lives in Torquay) so Lynne (sherpa, tourist and non-walker), Francis, Alison, Mike and I went down on Monday and kicked off proceedings with dinner in the Abbey Inn, Buckfast.

(l to r) Francis, Mike, Alison, Lynne and me, Abbey Inn, Buckfast
Injuries and mishaps meant that this was the first time for three years that all five of us had walked together, so it was with a sense of optimism that we pulled on our boots in the car park on Trendlebere Down, on the edge of the moor above Lustleigh.

Boots on in the car park above Lustleigh
Day 31 of the Odyssey would take us from here, southwest across Dartmoor to Mike’s car, positioned before breakfast beside a tiny road 5km west of Buckfast.

Odyssey Day 31, ending at a nameless spot on a tiny road
Last year had finished in Lustleigh village after a steep and treacherous descent that nobody fancied doing in the upward direction, but on the way the walk had passed through this car park, so it was within the rules and spirit of the Odyssey to start from here.

Despite being well above the village, the morning would commence with a stiff climb. Black Hill (412m) filled most of the western horizon, its summit 200m above the car park.

We set off towards a nearby spur, which looked suspiciously like another summit…

Following Francis and Alison up the first spur
…. but from the top the view of Black Hill looked exactly like the view of the spur fifteen minutes earlier. The ground was remarkably dry, but the day was cool, the wind biting, with mist and rain closing in from the west.

Black Hill from the top of the first spur
It was a brutal start to the day, but it warmed me up as I tailed off behind the others, and then kept everybody waiting at the top while I adjusted boot and sock – my right heel was rubbing and I really did not want a blister on day 1.

From the summit the ground dropped little as we crossed Haytor Down aiming to the right of the prominent Haytor Rocks. We met a small group of Dartmoor ponies who kindly agreed to pose with the rocks as a backdrop.

Dartmoor ponies with Haytor rocks in the mist behind
It would have been a good picture but for the steadily thickening mist.

600m before Haytor Rocks we crossed the Haytor Tramway. These granite tracks were laid in 1820 to guide the flangeless iron wheels of horse-drawn trucks carrying granite from three quarries on the moor to Ventiford 16km away on the Stover canal whence it was barged to Teignmouth for export. Trains of 12 trucks were dragged up to the moor by teams of 18 horses and guided to the appropriate quarry by points. The tramway was graded so that loaded wagons could safely make the descent under gravity. The Stover canal, originally built to carry clay, was the work of James Templer, and his son George constructed the tramway, a time-consuming and expensive task, but presumably worth it as he had just won the contract to supply granite for the new London Bridge (the one now in Arizona). Haytor granite also features prominently in the British Museum and National Gallery, but although the quarries employed 100 men in 1850, they closed in 1858, unable to compete with cheaper Cornish granite.

Points on the Haytor Granite Tramway.
Francis seems to be signalling us to Hollwell quarry, but we followed the other branch round Haytor.
Passing to the right and below Haytor Rocks we made our way through mist and drizzle towards Saddle Tor, pausing to drink our coffee in the shelter of its rocks. In this wintry setting we heard the first cuckoo of spring, a promise of better things to come.

In the lee of the rocks, Saddle Tor
Our route took us down to the B3387 which we followed for a few hundred metres to Hemsworthy Gate (just a spot on the map, there is no actual 'gate') where a small road comes in from the south. The plan was to walk at an angle between the two roads across Blackslade Mire.

Down towards the B3387 with Top Tor in the background
If Haytor Down had been surprisingly dry, Blackslade Mire lived up to its name. With no path extant, trying to follow a compass bearing in 50m visibility with frequent bog-related detours felt foolhardy; better, we thought, to cut back to the smaller road, follow it south for a couple of kilometres to where the map promised a westward path.

Alison disappears into the mist
Along the way we paused at the aptly named Cold East Cross (it was cold, there was a small crossroads and it was undoubtedly east of somewhere) the southernmost point on that side of the map. Opening out an OS map, turning it over and re-folding it the way you want it can be challenging in your living room, doing at a windswept, rain bespattered cross roads takes skill and perseverance.

Turning the map at Cold East Cross
As Francis and Brian persevered (skilfully) a Range Rover came down the lane. The window wound down, 'Do you know where you are?' asked a voice from the warm, dry interior. Had she asked if we knew why we were there it might have provoked a philosophical discussion, but as we were at a cross roads, were in possession of a map (it was being waved like a flag) and had too much grey hair to be mistaken for callow youths, she came across as rather patronising. Still, she meant well, so we politely informed her we did.

The path heading west was pleasingly obvious and soon became a green lane and then a farm track before joining a minor road south…

The green lane westward
… to the hamlet of Buckland in the Moor where we took a break on a roadside bench.

Lunch stop, Buckland in the Moor
St Peter's Church is a little fifteenth century gem. I lacked the energy to detour inside, but it reputedly has a Norman font and an impressive rood screen.

St Peter's Buckland in the Moor, in the mist
Buckland had 94 inhabitants according to the 2001 census, but apart from the church we saw no dwellings other than a handsome thatched house, though the manorial Buckland Hall hides in the woods nearby.

Thatched house, Buckland in the Moor
Continuing south the road dropped steeply through a forest into the Dart Valley, a painful descent for those with arthritic knees. My eye was attracted by the rich green of the moss on an old wall.

Mossy wall south of Buckland in the Moor
In this damp environment mosses and lichens thrive. Decades ago, when I was a Boy Scout, I learned that you could tell which way was west from the moss on the trees, which grows on the side of the prevailing winds (and of course rains) - a piece of information I have never had cause to use or even check for veracity. I have now, and it works - though I still never expect to use it.

Advice from the epiphytes, West is to the right
At the bottom the road swung right at a farmhouse…

Reaching the bottom of the Dart Valley
…and continued to Buckland Bridge, a little bridge built by public subscription in the 1780s to replace a 16th century construction. It still carries the limited motor traffic that comes this way over the little River Webburn which bounds exuberantly down from the moor.

Buckland Bridge (Picture: Francis)
Within sight of the bridge the Webburn joins the Dart, here impersonating a mature, sensible sort of river.

The confluence of the Webburn (left) and the Dart
Leaving the road, we followed the wide grassy bank of the Dart passing a school party. Francis, ahead as usual, spotted a mandarin duck, floating along with two mallards. When everyone else arrived there were only two mallards, where the Mandarin went was a mystery - but if Francis said it was there, it probably was.

Alison beside the River Dart - while Alison was looking left, the Mandarin duck was round to her right
A kilometre later, at New Bridge, we found a car park, empty but for an ice cream van – they know telepathically when a school party is approaching, but it is not just kids they capture, Francis and Alison could not resist the lure of ice cream. We crossed the New Bridge, which was indeed 'new' in 1415, and walked through the woods on the other side of the river.

New Bridge on the River Dart, I know because the sign says so.
Just before Horseshoe Falls (impressively horseshoe-shaped, but not much of a Falls) the path starts to rise away from the stream to the village of Holne, a kilometre from New Bridge and 100m above it.

The Horseshoe Falls on the River Dart (Niagara has nothing to be frightened about)
I struggled on the long drag up to Holne. We saw little of the village except the sad sight of its closed pub before starting the descent to Scorriton, during which we lost most of the height we had just gained. The descent hurt my knees and I was as slow on that as the climb into Holne. The others kindly waited for me.

Scorriton felt like a village at the bottom of a hole, but at least it's pub still functions - though it closes at 2.30 - an hour before we arrived.

The descent to Scorriton, I think, but I was losing the plot by this stage
Mike’s car was parked on the ridge from Cross Furzes to Lud Gate, at a height of just over 300m. To add insult to injury we took the only road out of Scorriton that actually descends as we headed for Combe to cross the little River Mardle and ensure the last kilometre and a half involved a climb of over 200m.

The River Mardle at Combe
The climb, up through a wood and then across open fields, was a nasty sting in the tail. I had struggled on the climb up to Hohne, and if there was a way of getting out of this climb I would have, but short of lying down in the woods and expiring it could not be avoided. I am grateful to those who waited patiently for me at various points and to those who hung back to walk with me as I plodded slowly upwards.

The wooded part of the final ascent - it was steeper than the camera makes it look, honest
I disliked holding my companions up (though everyone was very gracious), but the climb had to be done, and slowly was all I could manage. Long before the end I had serious doubts about tomorrow's walk. I was under-prepared, my knees are in a bad way, I am overweight - though no more than when this walk started in 2008, but I am ten years older.

Eventually it ended and others walked while I plodded along the lane to Mike's car.

Along the lane to Mike's car
Back at the B&B, I spent an hour lying motionless on my bed, occasionally groaning piteously (and not just for Lynne's sympathy). Then I felt strong enough to have a shower, and the hot water trickling down my body (it wasn't one of the great showers) made me feel strong enough to head for the pub. I ordered a J2O, which raised some eyebrows, but when I finished that I felt strong enough for a pint of Proper Job.

I felt even stronger after that and ate a proper dinner, with a glass or three of Chilean Merlot. And a dessert. Tomorrow? Bring it on! (but my apologies when I again keeping everyone waiting).


  1. I was impersonating a signal while standing at the points on the tramway at Haytor but was not indicating the way we should go. As the photo shows, I am from the east of England where proper signals are upper quadrant.

    David, you did incredibly well to finish Day 1 this year and then to go on and complete Days 2 and 3 too. We were not too late finishing either.

    1. 'I am from the east of England where proper signals are upper quadrant'
      Do you have an English translation for this statement?

  2. We set a precedent for altering the start of a walk as we did this year. In 2016 we walked into Copplestone and finished there but by 2017 that final section was considered superfluous and we started near Down St Mary.

  3. Old semaphore signals are either upper quadrant or lower quadrant. When the signal is at danger its arm is horizontal. In the eastern region the signal raises into the upper quadrant- in the western, it drops into the lower quadrant- to indicate a train may pass.

  4. It was good that all the walkers were together again. I admire your stamina, completing the walk when you felt so bad, David. As you say, it started with a brutal climb, and it seemed like the down bits were as uncomfortable as the up bits for you. Personally, I was pleased to walk at a slower pace, so no need to apologise.